After having spent the better part of the last 350 days at home with my two sons and my husband, I began to think about how proud I am of who they are and simultaneously how much I have worried about them in the last year. Now that there are sprinklings of good change on the horizon, I am beginning to see such positivity and excitement creeping in all around us! The view to all the good things that await the kids (and adults) is in sight.
When a pandemic hits, no one knows what to expect. Parents had no clue how they would navigate the unfamiliar territory of the ever-changing landscape of their childrens’ lives in the last year. We’re almost out of the woods, and if my arms were long enough, I’d reach them around my little family and squeeze them way too tightly in an effort to express “you did it, you’ve almost made it through.”
Parents had a front row seat to our kids’ lives being substantially disrupted again and again with school or lack thereof, sports and activities going away, isolation and infrequent face to face socialization, many of our favorite indoor play places going out of business, and much, much, more screen time. Due to these monumental changes to their routines, small and sometimes large shifts took place in our family. Looking back at all of it, I know at the end of the day, we loved our kids fiercely and to the best of our ability. We made the changes where it was possible to positively impact them. For that, I’m actually kind of proud of us too.
Each night when I’m putting my kids to bed, I use that time to ask them how they’re doing or listen to pieces of their day they feel are significant enough to share with me. It’s always been my favorite part of the day, and while it’s fleeting because my husband yells from the other room:no more talking! I will roll my eyes and continue to soak it up. It’s the only time of day when no one is rushing off to school or playing games online with the concentration of dismantling a bomb. I’m also not on a conference call, with my head buried in my laptop.
While lying next to my youngest son this last year at bedtime, what’s running through my mind is a flurry of thoughts: Ev has eczema on his cheek today, is he stressed about something? He’s ripping at his hair again, how can I make him stop? Now he’s yanking his eyebrows out, is it loneliness, is it stress, is it anxiety, is it something small I can easily fix? I hope he knows how much we love him. I have to find him more friends, I wish he wasn’t so picky about who he wants to hang with. I will email the teacher tomorrow for connections to parents. I will reach out and set up playdates. Oh wait, I already tried that, didn’t work. Oh wait, there’s a new kid in class he likes, I’ll ask for that mom’s email. I could always ask old friends from his old school. Hmmm…ok that one won’t hang out, oh shoot that one only does outdoor playdates and it’s 10 degrees outside, this one has a small group they only hang with so that won’t work either, neither will that one, that mom always says no, is it offensive if I keep asking her? Oh fuck it all.
And throughout these endless thoughts, they are interrupted with his sweet voice telling me a story about a book he’s reading, asking me a question about the Gettysburg battle, Pearl Harbor, when he will be able to watch Freddy Kruger movies,or when we can vacation in a hotel made of ice. He isn’t one to say “I love you’s” but he’ll reach for my hand and hold it until he drifts off.
I have come to the realization that the “to do” list that I used to lie awake and think about has been replaced with all consuming worry about my children. I head to my 11 year old’s room after my little guy starts to drift. Sometimes I pause outside my my eldest’s door and take a deep breath. If I step back for a minute, and get out of my head, there is clarity for the most part that my boys seem happy. There are moments of meltdowns, lack of motivation, some tics have crept in, and some unfortunate habits. But… of course that’s the case. Who hasn’t had bumps in the road of normalcy or symptoms of anxiety in one way or another in the last year? On a global scale, our families now all know what it actually means and feels like to be physically isolated. This was not something we baked into our plan when taking the job of parenting on with an I got this and I will be an awesome parent attitude. Thus the battle of guilt and worry for this mama right here and likely many others.
So each night, in trying my best to be a good mom, now during a pandemic, I lie down next to my 11 year old and we read our books side by side. Sometimes he’ll pause to tell me about an interesting plot twist or something that springs to mind that he’d like to share unrelated to his book. He’ll ask me to tell him about 9/11, or a story from my past, or tell me a funny meme he saw, or ask me what my book is about which usually spirals into several other conversations. He is such a happy guy, always has been. When I ask him if he’s doing OK, he’ll usually respond with a yep, I’m good Mom.
Each night, he evades sleep due to fear of missing out on any possible crumb of excitement. He often needs to be reminded there’s not much he’s missing- his dad’s in bed by 9 and his mom is usually reading, writing, or binging a TV Show. No party in the living room over here- sorry bud. His sleep evasion can come in the form of a thousand questions also. The most common question he asks me these days during our nightly reading is will he ever return to his old school. To which I often reply I don’t know.
We placed our children in a different school in our town this year for a variety of reasons. It was the best decision I think we’ve ever made as parents. When I tell you that it was like a litmus test with an immediate result, I am not exaggerating. Without going down a long, dark rabbit hole of all the back and forth that took place within our town’s public school system between August to now, March 2021, in a nutshell-it was a hot mess. On the other hand, the Catholic schools in our area were very organized, and we were impressed from day one.
When plans changed right up against the start of our kids’ school year from the anticipated full-time, in-person schooling to an impossible hybrid model, I knew it would not work for our second grader. He struggled big time in the remote learning model last spring when everything shut down. The noise, all the people on the computer screen, and trying to follow what the teacher was saying was very irritating for him. The day often started and ended in tears for both of us.
Knowing this, we started him in a small Catholic private school locally. It costs us of course, because it’s not a public school, however, it was money well spent. The furious child from spring and early summer of 2020 evaporated. To our absolute elation and relief, every single day that he has gotten off the bus from this school he is giddy, smiling, chatty, and frankly, the best word to describe it would be ebullient.
We started our 11 year old at the public middle school back in September. This was a mistake we realized two months in. He was home doing remote learning 3 days a week of which he had no teacher interaction two of the three days. He was done with his work by 9:30 a.m. and played Minecraft from then until I was done with work each day at around 5:30. On the two days a week that he actually did go in person to school, he would stress out. He leans toward type A personality traits: very organized, particular, detail-oriented, and responsible- (even though his room screams otherwise) . As a result, if he woke up 5 minutes late, he would get emotional, and beat himself up verbally aloud while rushing to get dressed and complete his morning routine. They weren’t allowed to have lockers so his backpack was between 20-25 lbs on any given day, which was a drag to schlep that through a large 3 story building.
His middle school was also huge. So much so that he only knew one boy in most of his classes from elementary school. Each day I would greet him, eagerly anticipating our after school chats. How was your day? Did you see a friend? Did you get to talk to anyone at lunch? What’s it like during gym? Are your teachers nice?
Shockingly, my extroverted to the core child, would come home looking shell shocked and a bit down. He couldn’t get to the cafeteria fast enough to sit somewhat near his friends. They sat at desks spaced 6 feet apart in the cafeteria so it was definitely not the vibe you and I had in middle school. He loved his teachers and said he wished he saw them all five days a week. He felt rushed in between classes, at lunch, catching the bus, and this stressed him out. He had a couple of panic attacks in anticipation of the in-person school days. Doing an hour and a half of school 3 days a week and then, in turn, going 100 mph on the days he was in school was difficult to get used to. The inconsistency was not working well and it was making him feel out of control. We started to see a shift in our always happy boy.
We decided to pull him out at the end of October. There was no full time return in sight, and it wasn’t a scenario we were comfortable with sitting back and watching play out. Our son’s overall personality was changing as a result of this and we knew a change was in order. We sent him to the same local Catholic school where his brother was thriving.
While his first week he did not get off the bus giddy and all smiles as his little brother did, the second week and each week thereafter- he did. It has been an adjustment for him, of course. It’s a different vibe with the teachers and it’s a different atmosphere compared to public school. The days felt long to him at first because he was so used to playing Minecraft 3 days a week for 8-9 hours in place of school. I think of all the kids who have had not only 2 months of that like our son did, but 6 months, and wonder what will happen with them? How long will it take them to adjust back to a “normal” school day?
The grading system changes over in middle school here and this means he just had his first experience on the honor roll. To see him proud of himself and comfortable in a routine has given us immense peace of mind. They both get off the bus and rush to the basement where my office is currently set up, to talk to me about their days- and they seem genuinely happy in those moments. This has replaced bedtime for me as my favorite time of day because of how chatty and chipper they are during this time each day.
While both of my sons have had a few quarantines each this past school year due to varying circumstances, the four of us are thankful for the consistency and interaction this school has brought them. My son’s second grade teacher noticed he’s bright and pairs him up with two others in the class who learn at the same level. He is getting personalized teaching, which hugely curtails his boredom and distracted behavior in the classroom. This is significant for him on many levels and was the first time we were learning this could be done in the classroom for him. The perks of private school really have shined through.
Their interests like lacrosse, basketball, parkour, and gymnastics were all on hold so they have little interaction after school, as likely most other children have experienced this last year. Thankfully, three out of four of those activities have picked back up in the last month or two, so more rays of light are peeking into our household there as well.
With the loneliness, bouts of anxiety, and inconsistency my boys have had in the last year, I am really proud of them both. I’ve got a clear picture now into what they each like and don’t like. My son, Ev, was starting to come out of his shell of shyness in 2019 and I was concerned he would turtle right back into it with starting a new school. Turns out that was not the case at all. His teacher this year was actually surprised to hear he was ever a shy kid.
I’ve had more time than I’ll ever likely have with them again in this life in the last 350 days, and while there are many negatives surrounding the pandemic, one positive is I really see my children now in vivid color. I see who they are as people, what brings them to life, makes them sad, what stokes fury in them, what drives their happiness and makes them feel secure. I am not sure I would see these things in them so brightly had I not had this concentrated amount of time with them forced upon us. One factor that is jumping up and down in my face these days is the discovery of a need at the root of it all for every human being. That significant need is a sense of community.
I see that dire need in my extroverted self and even in my introverted husband. We’ve had to be that community to one another now for about a year. Our older son has been fortunate enough to have two friends he sees somewhat regularly during all of this, and for that I’m so grateful. But for our younger son, that was not the case, and only time will tell us the implications that has brought with it.
I can tell you it was not for lack of trying on my part. That said, I can’t feel guilt, but I feel sad about it and immensely worried. OK, and maybe angry-like really angry. Not angry at anyone per se, but at what the pandemic has cost each of our children in unique ways. These are the things during this pandemic I could not control, so I need to accept this, and just love the hell out of my son the best way I know how during this time of his perpetual loneliness. I feel like an empath some days, serving as a mirror to his anger surrounding seeing his brother have playdates- when so often he does not. Honestly, that part eats away at my brain on the daily.
When we do get together with friends, there are moments where time stands still as I take in small interactions between my children and my friend’s children. A tidal wave of endorphins engulf me and I often wonder- do my children feel it too in those moments?
Speaking of which, I have really been missing my community of friends. But in the last two weeks, things have picked up and there are flutters of activity where it’s felt a bit stagnant for a while. It’s lighter out longer now also, which is super energizing. I so look forward to a continued increase in connection and the more people I talk to, the more I realize I am definitely not alone in that. In the meantime, and for the bulk of the last year, my community has been my husband. Thank you for being that for me Tom!
My husband is a calming source when I am a neurotic stress ball. I can be really calm sometimes, but in the last year, he has been a sounding board for my constant worry surrounding the kids. This is where being married to someone vastly different than myself comes in exponentially handy. When he is stressed and angsty, I am calm. When I am neurotic about something, he is very relaxed and level headed.
On a recent bad day, after listening to me vent, he swept a stray strand of hair from my face and asked, “Do you have any idea what a special person you are?” And magically, my bad day wasn’t so bad anymore. That simple sentence washed away my fretting. Boom. Gone.
We haven’t been cooped up together like some couples during this time, so maybe it’s easier to appreciate one another. I don’t know the answer, but I know we are a good match during this and I feel a sense of relief and peace in that. This part isn’t meant to make anyone feel bad if they’re going through something with their spouse or partner. It’s just a moment to recognize and appreciate when things are good in your partnership. The deep connection and love that you do have is oftentimes just the sustenance you need after a long pandemic day.
Like many of you reading this, I may not have that sense or feeling of community at the moment, but I’m extraordinarily grateful and appreciative of the one I’ve got going with my family. I’ll continue to take dance classes, get together with the people who want to, read as many books as my sleepy eyes will allow, write, work hard in my job, be a supportive wife, and try my damnedest to make sure my kids feel secure, loved, and happy.
This is a written snapshot in time of our family at this 350 day juncture. We are a closer family now, the eye-opening reality is our community feels much smaller than it once was, and each day we look forward to positive changes that will benefit not only our kids, but all of the people struggling through.